One of the big values of a hack day is taking datasets away from their original owners, and getting a bunch of tech-focused people to play about with them. You remove the preconceptions that the owner may hold about the data, and see what happens when a different group of people uses that set of information.
The direction taken in a hack day environment is a function of those present in the room, and the datasets provided. Both knowledge and values guide what an individual or group thinks to do with a given data set, and decisions are made about what other data sets are used as comparison or in combination, what context these data sets are placed in, what assumptions (both conscious and subconscious) are made, and how any outputs are visualised or understood.
If we want to produce non-partisan outputs, we need to balance as far as possible the political biases in the input provided – both in terms of data and expertise. And this means that the decisions made by hack day organisers in terms of who is providing guidance and which data sets are provided or pointed to shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Campaigning organisations are driven by particular political objectives, and this informs the questions they ask, and the data they chose to collect and subsequently release. We can’t (and shouldn’t) collect all data about every person, group or organisation. Even organisations which are attempting to be non-political will make value judgements about what is (and what isn’t) important data to collect. And this effect will be much stronger – both subconsciously and consciously – in datasets produced by campaigning organisations. Those with strong political objectives and ideologies will also suggest different things to do with a specific dataset.
Therefore, if you run a non-partisan high-profile hack day focusing on critical analysis of Government, it might be prudent to not have this event partly sponsored by a right-wing small-state lobby group, unless you balance this. It might be wise to ensure you have an equal and opposite force with similar prominence in the room, providing guidance and datasets.
I’m not saying exclude guidance and datasets from those with strong political ideology. In fact, to ensure disruptive outcomes, you want to ensure you have many strong views in a room.
However, if the aim of your hack day is to produce something useful and informed by the widest amount of information available, you want to ensure these influences are balanced and diverse.
It can’t be that hard.